By Steven G. Kellman
You can tell that Paul Paskoff (Arquette) is a serious author, not only by the rickety manual typewriter on which he pounds out sentences. A college graduate who moved to Harlem in order to gather inspiration for his prose, Paul is the only white patron at a seedy neighborhood bar called the Blue Room. He acquires a black girlfriend, but she dumps him, accusing him of slumming and using her merely to advance his literary ambitions. By the end of Never Die Alone, Paul is able to draw on enough raw experience to write a book called Never Die Alone. "This is an amazing story," concludes an editor, who finds the manuscript awesome but utterly unbelievable.
Never Die Alone is a formulaic drama of urban violence and vengeance, and if framing it with Paul does not make the script more credible, it does add shading to a nouveau film noir whose protagonist's skin is as dark as his deeds. First and last words in the script are uttered by a brazen drug dealer who calls himself King David (DMX). By the time the film begins, he is lying in a coffin and narrating a postmortem account of his own short and brutal life. David provides much of his story on a series of audio tapes, called The Autobiography of a King, that Paul finds hidden in a hollowed-out Bible and that he draws upon to write Never Die Alone.
Based on a novel by Donald Goines, a junkie, pimp, and prodigy of pulp fiction who began writing fiction in prison and was gunned down in 1974, Never Die Alone evokes a gritty world in which desirable women abuse drugs and sadistic men abuse women. "What else is there but money, pussy, and money?" asks Moon (Powell), an exultant drug lord. Except through sophisticated camera work, lighting, and editing, the film does not attempt an answer. Director Ernest R. Dickerson served as cinematographer on seven Spike Lee films, and his complex use of frames, flashbacks, tilts, filters, and slow motion aestheticizes the lives of thugs, pimps, and pushers. Returning to the Blue Room after 10 years in California, King David asks the bartender whether he has been missed. "How can anyone miss a rattlesnake?" she answers. The hood in this film is an urban snake farm whose residents ooze with ophidian venom. How can anyone miss it? •
` By Steven G. Kellman `